Friday, August 7, 2015

At the Movies: "The Wall"

At the Movies with Michael5000

I think it's kind of funny that The Wall is
often marketed as a nostalgia piece these
days: "The Memories"!  Remember that
time sophomore year....
The Wall
DBA Pink Floyd: The Wall
Alan Parker, 1982.

imbd: 8.0
Ebert: Four Stars.
Rotten Tomatoes: 72% Fresh

I watched it on the big screen a few weeks ago at the fabulous Hollywood Theater.

In Robert Emery’s The Directors: Take Three, Alan Parker describes The Wall as “the most expensive student film in history, probably.” That’s a good assessment. Although rather heavy-handed, it is more or less experimental in nature, with non-linear storytelling, symbolically charged animation sequences, minimal dialog, and a blurring of the line between real and imagined experience.  Also, it’s mostly one long musical montage, for crying out loud.

Parker also says that he thinks Roger Waters is “the only person in the world who actually knows what the film is all about,” but that’s a bit disingenuous. Really, a big part of what makes The Wall sophomoric is that, for all that it avoids traditional storytelling formulas, it is all too obvious what it is all about. Indeed, its chief virtue may be that it has taught generations of viewers, by now, in a very simple, very easy-to-digest fashion, that it pays to apply some active thinkin’ to film in particular, and by extension to literature in general. That’s to say, it’s a good starter film for the aspiring young cineaste.

Plot: So there’s this sensitive guy who has some tough life experiences. His dad dies in the war, his mom is overprotective, he’s got issues around sexuality, he is educated in a British “public school,” and then, worst of all, he becomes a successful musician. As a result of this cumulative psychic damage, he has become comfortably numb and built a metaphorical “wall,” if you will, between himself and others. Over the course of the film, we see stylized fragments from his case history, and watch him struggle with his isolation and loneliness. It’s not at all mysterious, but it sure is gloomy!

Then, there are also some bits that compare being a popular rock star to being a fascist dictator. It probably speaks well of Roger Waters that the ability of he and his bandmates to electrify a huge roomful of strangers stuck him as a bit disturbing. But if you’re reading this, Roger, here’s the thing: a rock star entertains all of those people for a while, and then they all go home with pleasant memories. A fascist dictator makes them feel like the world has conspired against them, and encourages them to go out and hurt other people. It’s a really important difference!

Anyway, there’s nothing egregiously bad about The Wall. Having said that, it does conspicuously recycle its own footage over and over again, its sexual imagery is kind of juvenile, and it repeatedly tries to create cast-of-thousands effects with a cast of dozens. An entry in the tiny genre of rock musical spectacular, it treads ground that is perilously close to The Whos’ Tommy, which was released only seven years earlier. And finally, it is surrealist but lacks a sense of humor, and this, despite its rock music bona fides, makes it come off as stuffy and pompous.

Obviously, if you love the music of Pink Floyd, that will help a lot, and if you hate the music of Pink Floyd, that’s going to be really hard to get past.

Michael5000's imdb rating: 5.


Jenners said...

This takes me back to the U of O, where I first saw it on campus. Was trying to impress a boy who was a huge Pink Floyd fan, struggled to stay awake ...but that could have been due to the late hour of the show. Definitely needs some humor!!! This is the with Bob Geldof, right?

Michael5000 said...

@Jenners: The Memories! It does star Bob Geldof, who does a pretty good job. Even though I also saw it in college -- as so many have -- I misremembered it as more amusingly psychedelic, as far more playfully trippy than it actually is. In reality, it's pretty ponderous stuff.

UnwiseOwl said...

For the most part, I do not enjoy the music of Pink Floyd, so I'll give it a miss.

mhwitt said...

What a spot-on review. This flick is flawed but not without some merit.

It seemed both profound and at times hard to comprehend when I saw it in the theaters at age 14 or 15. I believed there were was a depth of meaning in the film that were accessible only to people more sensitive and literary than the teenage me. I think the fascism bits were especially unsettling and confusing.

A few short years later, when I saw it as a campus movie at the U of O, it seemed bombastic and heavy handed. But perhaps that was mostly because I was by then totally over Pink Floyd's music, having become a fairly devoted college radio top 40 snob.

I almost want to watch it again now. And maybe I will. Maybe.

Michael5000 said...

See, mhwitt, all you needed was a little education!

...hey, wait....